During World War II, Adolf Hitler orchestrated a plan to eradicate all Jews from Germany and Europe at large. With labor camps already up and running, and pogroms already taking place throughout Germany and other European countries, Nazi leadership met at the Wannsee Conference to discuss how to finally eradicate all European Jewry, eventually implementing a plan which Hitler called “The Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” The Holocaust was the final stage in this plan, though it did not begin there. Well before the extermination camps were up and running, Jews were facing intense discrimination, violence, and forced labor.
Under the rule of Hitler, Jews in Germany were already experiencing repressive practices and abusive attacks. Pogroms – mass killings and rioting aimed at Jews – were common in Nazi Germany, and Jews were systematically being funneled out of positions of power in commerce and governance. These were the first steps of Hitler’s Final Solution, and though Hitler himself did not condone unorganized and chaotic pogroms, he did little to stop them. As anti-Semitic sentiment increased throughout Europe, Jews were forced into cramped and dirty ghettos. This was yet another step toward Hitler’s Final Solution.
By the time Nazi leadership met at the Wannsee Conference to discuss the Final Solution, close to a million Jews had already been killed by Einsatzgruppen, or Nazi killing squads. Their methods were inefficient, however, so Nazi leadership decided they needed to come up with more efficient ways to perpetuate the Final Solution. Thousands of Jews were struggling to stay alive in the face of hunger and poverty, overcrowding, and increasing violence from Nazi forces in the ghettos, but this was also an inefficient way to exterminate Jews. The architects of the Final Solution decided to force the Jews into labor and extermination camps, thereby setting up an efficient system to both exterminate Jews and stimulate the economy with cheap laborers.
While the first extermination camps were not built until 1941, it is up for debate when Hitler decided on his plan to fully eradicate the Jews. Because the Final Solution took place in a series of steps beginning in the early 1930’s, it is difficult to pinpoint when Hitler’s plan began to come to full fruition. Regardless, the final stages of the Final Solution took place in the extermination camps with the systematic and constant killing of Jews via gas chamber, firing squad, forced labor, or other inhumane means. This final stage – the Holocaust itself and the extermination camps – is largely regarded as the end of the process, or the so-called Final Solution. The Final Solution of the Jewish Question was thwarted after Hitler was overthrown and the extermination camps were liberated, but not before immense damage had been done and upwards of six million Jews had been killed.